Glass and steel…

A Roman lamp showing two people blowing glass.

Working my way through … what?… maybe the third or fourth draft of this book now? Feeling tired and cranky about it, but at the same time, I’m starting for the first time to feel like I know where this is going and how the book will be important.

Take for example the page I’m working on today, where glass-blowing in Iran and steel production in India kick manufacturing up a notch (and paper-making is just beginning in China, too). First, we can see that increasing trade forced governments and traders everywhere to look for new things they could sell, preferably made out of cheap, sustainable materials (iron ore, sand, hemp) and involving more skill and less long boring labor.

Steel, glass, and paper are all better here than spinning and weaving cloth, or knotting Persian carpets, or making thousands of tiny shell beads, which had all been popular earlier. I mean, people kept on manufacturing cloth, carpets, and beads. But it seems clear that as they look around for new businesses, they know what they’re looking for, and they assign research teams to find it, and they succeed.

Harvesting gum arabic (acacia sap) in Sudan

In more remote parts of the world, lacking funds for technological research, they’re still stuck making more labor-intensive things. In France, they’re turning out a lot of pottery dishes and cups (although they’re about to stop.) In Chad, they’re selling gum arabic, painstakingly harvested from trees. (It’s a kind of sap, useful even today. In the ancient world, it was an ingredient in ink, paint, and glue, among other things.)

Aztec mother and daughter spinning (okay, not Moche, but the closest we have an image of)

And, increasingly, they’re selling enslaved people (which is another way of selling people’s work.) In Indonesia, they’re harvesting and selling nutmeg and cloves and pepper – harvesting again. In Georgia, they’re mining quartz and mica. In Peru, the Moche sell elaborately embroidered cotton fabrics – labor again.

And we see the difference this makes to wealth: wealth builds wealth. In Iran, India, and China, it’s all paved roads, stone palaces and temples, schools and universities. The other places don’t have those things – yet.

Now, there’s nothing permanent or natural about this. Today, France and Georgia are richer than India or Iran. But it does show why it’s important to invest in new technologies, I think. Comments?



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